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As I pulled out of the parking lot near the law school into a stream of heavy traffic late yesterday afternoon, I saw a man walking down the line of cars begging, carrying a sign in his hands. I immediately opened the car window and pulled out of my bag a $10 gift card for Davanni’s, located a few blocks away, and waited to drive near enough to the man to give it to him.

As slowly I neared him (traffic was quite bad), I noticed the man behaving strangely. He would sometimes be walking toward the cars begging (without any success) and other times be standing looking off yelling. I first thought he might be talking to someone, but it then seemed he was directing his apparent anger to a nearby lamp post. As he turned again toward the line of cars and began to move closer to my car, I considered whether I should just close my window and look away, wondering if he might pose any danger. I actually did momentarily close it, but almost immediately opened it again.

The man walked toward me with his sign, which read “Homeless. Anything would help.” I motioned him over and handed him the gift card, smiling and saying, “Here. There is $10 on this for the Davanni’s that is just over on the next street, on the corner of 12th and Hennepin. Go over there and get yourself something to eat.” As I spoke, he was looking directly at me with clear eyes, and when I finished he said, “Okay. Thank you.” And he walked directly over to where his bag was, picked it up and began walking in the direction of Davanni’s.

Maybe the man was a con artist trying to get what he could from people. Maybe he was so crazy that he would drop the gift card on the steet or into the gutter.

But maybe he was just a tired and hungry man without a home, and mine were the first kind words he heard spoken to him all day. And maybe sitting inside of a restaurant with a sandwich or pizza and a soft drink in front of him on the table would go a little way toward filling his body and soul.

I’ll never know which of a long list of maybes was actually the case. But I know I would have deeply regretted it if I had closed my window and looked away. In a situation like that, I’d much rather risk being “taken” than not take a chance that might make a real difference to someone.

In addition to praying with the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, you might consider reflecting on some poems with resurrection themes as a way to deepen your prayer during this Easter season.

I often encourage people to pray with poetry. Pope Benedict expressed well why poetry can be so moving in our prayer in one of his general audiences. He spoke to the people that day about artistic expression as the “way of beauty,” saying

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another – before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music – to have experienced a deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter – a piece of marble, or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds – but something far greater, something that “speaks,” something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul….

Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, opened to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward….

[T]here are artistic experssions that are true roads to God, the supreme Beauty – indeed, they are a help to us in growing in our relationship with Him in prayer.

You may have some of your own favorite prayers with resurrection themes, but here are a couple you might reflect on:

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection, Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Resurrection, John Donne

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in Thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day.

The Death of Death, Scott Cairns

Put fear aside. Now
that He has entered
into death on our behalf,
all who live
no longer die
as men once died.
That ephemeral occasion
has met its utter end.
As seeds cast to the earth, we
will not perish,
but like those seeds
shall rise again—the shroud
of death itself having been
burst to tatters
by love’s immensity.

Remember: it is still Easter!

During these days following Easter, we listen to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. These are scenes I love praying with. And never listen to me when I say that one or another is my favorite (which I have at times claimed of Emmaus, of the scene of Jesus and the disciple on the beach, and of ….); each one of the accounts touches me deeply, albeit in different ways.

Today’s Gospel gives us St. John’s account of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ. Mary, who obviously has deep love for Jesus, stands weeping outside of his empty tomb, sad and confused. Not only is Jesus dead, but his body is gone – stolen, she fears.

But then she sees a man that she mistakes for a gardener. “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you have ladi him, and I will take him.” And then the man speaks her name. “Mary.” And with that one word, everything changes. Grief turns to joy as Mary recognizes Jesus and runs to him and embraces him.

In the words of one commentator,

The encounter was deeply personal. By speaking her name, Jesus touched her at the center of her heart, the place where all her fears lurked, the place where the struggle between the darkness of sin and the light of God’s love was the fiercest. There, in the depth of her heart, Mary received the love of God, and her sadness was turned into a joy that moved her to tell the other disciples: “I have seen the Lord.”

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” And that encounter is essential to our growth in discipleship. Quoting Pope Benedict, Francis writes, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Jesus seeks the same personal encounter with each of us that Mary and his disciples experienced. All we need to do is accept his invitation

My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle in Minneapolis, writes a reflection for his community each week. This past week, he reported that he asked those who would be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil this year to reflect on the question: What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around?

He went on to invite all of us to reflect on the same question. Bill writes:

Churches across the world welcome new members to the faith every Easter. They can easily become – and rightly so – the sacramental focus of the vigil celebration. But precisely because of what they are doing in professing a communal faith and becoming part of a faith community, their actions should be an invitation to us to do more than simply watch it happen. Their profession of faith, their coming to the water, their joining us at the table should also be an invitation to renew our own faith and to ask ourselves the same questions that we ask them.

What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter?

Conversion is not a singular event. It is ongoing. It is repetitive in some ways, yes, in that the liturgical year cycles through the same stories. But if we take our faith seriously, those stories should never be heard exactly the same way twice. The mystery of the Incarnation, God entering human history in our image and likeness, should be entered into more deeply each time we share it. How much more so the mystery of the Resurrection? How great the invitation to ponder more deeply the messages of the empty tomb: light is greater than darkness; love is more powerful than apathy; life is stronger than death.

So…What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different to you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter? As you come to the life giving water, as you make your profession of faith, as you come to the table of love…What difference does it make?

We’ve finished participating in our Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter liturgies. We’ve had our big Easter dinner. This might be a good time for you to reflect on Bill’s question. What difference does Easter make to you this year?

He Is Risen!

Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Happy Easter!

Actually, we began our celebration last night, with the Easter Vigil. I attended the Vigil at Our Lady of Lourdes. I taught so many RCIA classes there this year that I wanted to be with the five people who would be confirmed last night (one of whom would also be baptized, and for one of whom I would stand as sponsor).

We began our celebration outside of the Church with the blessing of the fire:

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We then proceeded into the Church with our lit candles and listened to the beautiful Easter Proclamation (Exsultet). We listened to stories from our salvation history, readings that never fail to move me, culminating in Jesus appearance to the women outside of his tomb.

As we began the celebration of the sacraments of Initiation and of the rite of reception into full communion of the Catholic Church, we sang my favorite Litany of the Saints. It was the Litany we always sang at my retreat house, and I took a moment to acknowledge my loss at the retreat house’s closing and destruction in the midst of the celebration of the evening.

I watched with tears forming in my eyes as Ben, our catechumen, recited his renunciation of sin and received the sacrament of Baptism:

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I then stood with the other sponsors and our confirmation candidates received the laying on of hands and anointing. At the appropriate time in the Mass, I happily filed up with them, as they received communion for the first time.

The Easter Vigil is always one of my favorite liturgies of the year. Celebrating it this year with the five people I have walked with for so much of this year made it even more special. For them, as for all of us, Easter is our celebration of our rebirth in Christ.

Blessings on this holy and joyful day!

Yesterday was Good Friday, a day many of us participated in liturgies that included a reading of the passion, veneration of the cross and receipt of Eucharist. Tonight (for those of us attending Easter Vigils) or tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Resurrection.

What about today? We call today Holy Saturday. For some, it is simply an anticipation of Easter. But there is something more for us in this space between death and resurrection.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to take some time in the space between Jesus’ death and his Resurrection, to spend some time in that place of Christ’s absence. He believes it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.

Now this is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. We know the next chapter of the story; we know that Resurrection follows death and so our progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seemless. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. Each Sunday we recite the words in the Creed, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again. The truth is, that living on this side of the Resurrection, we largely take it for granted. I’m not saying we don’t take it seriously – Christians treat Easter as the most important day of the religious calendar and many people who don’t otherwise do so will go to mass on Easter. (We used the expression “CAPE Catholics”)

But do we really appreciate what we have? Do we really think about what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?

The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. For them, there was a real period of darkness after the crucifixion and before the Resurrection. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Think of what they experienced. Fear – that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness – believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss – as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion – “the road before them shrouded in darkness,” in the words of one prayer.

The instruction for prayer during “tomb day” in the Spiritual Exercises is to be with the disciples and with Mary and the other women in their grief over losing Jesus. To actually be with them – taking Jesus body off the cross, washing and anointing it, placing it in the tomb and watching the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with Mary and the other disciples afterwards, to go with them wherever they go, do with them whatever they do. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”

You might take some time today in your prayer to experience something of what Ignatius invites us to in the Exercises.

He Emptied Himself

On this day, I don’t think I can say anything better:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippins 2:6-11)

Blessings on this Good Friday!

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